Monday, 22 November 2010

Farewell Africa...for now

-->Yesterday morning we were up at the crack of dawn to take our place with 35,000 others on the startline of the Great Ethiopian Run.  In it's 10th year of running, this is the biggest 10km in Africa.  The elite race boasts the likes of Haile Gebreselassie, Gebregziabeher Gebremariam, and Sileshi Sihinas it's past winners.

Unfortunately, though I'm not quite good enough to be among the elites who start in Addis stadium, and must instead make my way to the mass startline in Meskel Square.  Having pushed my way close to the head of the field, I'm still concerned of what might happen once the gun goes, and many of those in front of me look far from serious runners.  Even in Ethiopian there are fat people, and I'm not sure there should be that many of them in front of me on a 10km start line.  The sun is belting down on me, as we stand there in anticipation for almost 30 minutes (as predicted nothing in Africa starts on time), I wonder how long I can cope with my individually tailored race teeshirt (the sleeves have been shortened to allow for some air circulation and the collar has been removed to prevent me from chocking). I try to remain calm.  Myself and Jacob (the one reason that I don't return home speaking complete broken English) who is standing beside me on the startline have been training together for the past week and decide to run together until a couple of kilometres out when it will be every man for himself.

The gun goes.  We don't move.  I push through some people in front of me.  Nobody seems to be in any hurry to go anywhere.  Everybody is in a carnival mood.  I feel trapped.  I've been looking forward to this for months.  My legs are fired up to race (must be all those carbs), but they can't get a clear run at it.  It seems like I'm going to have to push and shove my way through this one.  That's that last I see of Jacob until after the finishing line.  Having a habit of going off too fast in races of this distance, there shouldn't be too much concern this time.  But I know I'm waisting too much energy.  The people in front have decided to get into the spirit of things and run along shoulder to shoulder.  My spirit is racing.  I barge through.  I spot a slight gap on the left hand side of the field close to the footpath and choose to take that, though I know that there's a right hand turn soon.  I pass a few hundred people.  I thought that we were only about 20 people back from the front at the start but there are still thousands stretched out in front of us.  While I was struggling to get going on the startline it seems that thousands of people on either side of the wide line stormed through.  I reach 1km in about 5 and a half minutes.  This is going to be hell!

After 2km in something over 11 minutes I remove the teeshirt.  Sod the decency, this is croptop weather!  At what must be 3km I run straight into two 'civilians' stupidly choosing a 35,000 person stamped as a suitable point to cross the road.  I'm not sure if the escape uninjured, but I battle on.  I haven't seen the 4km marker yet and my watch is approaching 25mins.  There's a marker ahead.  To my relief it's the 5km marker.  Crossing the halfway point has never felt so much like finishing a race before.  The revised finishing time of 50 minutes is still possible.  There are still hundreds of people obstructing the way though.  And people in front who shouldn't be.  I pass people who are walking and haven't even worked up a sweat yet.  I wonder if they started at a later point.  No time to ponder though, still plenty of obstructions to pass.  After 6km I see a sign for a shower.  That's a huge relief.  A splattering of water is exactly what I need at this point.  More obstructions though - half a dozen people have stopped to make the most of it.  I barge through.  Not far after the drinks station at 7km I pass a guy with a walking stick - surely he can't have gotten here quicker than me?  Can he?  I battle on.  I pass 8km and I'm still in one piece.  Just 2.2km to go.  My mind has obviously gone dead - how can a 10km race be 10.2km.  What am I thinking?  I battle on.  The 9m mark.  I up the pace.  Finally there is free running room.  And a downhill stretch.  Time to make up time.  I break into a canter.  What's this?  Meskel square?  The finishing line?  I'm closer than I think.  Time for one last effort.  I cross the line.    I'm relieved.  I swear 'never again'.  Jacob crosses soon after and we congratulate each other.  A guy with a mike grabs me and asks some silly questions.  I mention something about it being the hardest think I have ever done.  Someone else wants to interview me.  I pick up my finishers medallion and free water.  I take a sip.  My mood changes.  I feel like I haven't raced at all.  I want to do it all over again...

It was with some disappointment that I packed my bags to leave Addis this morning - I guess the thought of 26 hours in transit isn't really appealing to me too much - but a good long warm shower, and some food with something other than carbohydrates won't go a miss.  After saying goodbye to all the guys at the camp I got a lift to the airport in the camp bus.  I didn't really pay too much attention to the driver's surprise when I told him where I was from, and it was only when himself and his assistant (yes it took two of them to get me to the airport), started saying that they preferred Thai jeans to Chinese ones that I realised they had miss understood me.  I didn't have the heart to tell them that I wasn't actually from the South-East Asian manufacturing superpower, but rather I was from the small bankrupt island on the edge of Europe.

And so that draws to an end my African adventure...well at least for now (I plan to visit Morocco and South Africa later in my travels).  It's time now to return to the British Isles, catch up with family and friends, and most importantly get the passport renewed.

1 comment:

  1. I have since discovered that by paying an additional entry fee and preregistering I could have received a special start number in advance of the race and had a clear run at it. Anyone interested in doing the Great Ethiopian Run, and not getting caught up in the masses, should check out the 'Special Start' tab on the Great Ethiopian Run website.